What writers want

As I ponder purchasing furniture for my first ever study, I have also been pondering what a writer needs to write.  Some writers need silence; others music; Annie Dillard reportedly papers over the windows in her study, lest she be distracted from her (glorious) work (if you haven’t read An American Childhood, you’re missing a gem).  It’s not only a physical space in which to write that has been lacking to date; I also work full time in a demanding job, as well as being the parent of a teenager.  When people ask me how I find time to write, I often say, I don’t know.  Because I don’t.  I make time, obviously, either in holidays or on weekends or during insomniac hours or on trains or instead of watching television.  Maybe it’s not the how: it’s the why.  Why, when each hour of life is so precious, would I spend time writing, when the world would neither know nor care if I spent my rare hours of free time at the beach, or planting out my vege bed, or seeing much neglected friends and family?

Like most mid-career (shudder) authors, I’ve wished I lived in a culture where I could live off my writing (or wrote the kinds of books that would make it possible in this one), or had a sugar daddy, or could magically have my mortgage paid off, or could win a massive prize that meant I could dedicate myself (in my shiny new study) to writing.  Some days, it really bites that I have to expend energy where I would rather not; some days I resent the demands that mean I can’t do what I love.  Virginia Woolf wrote that women writers need money and a room of my own, but I’ve managed without either.  Have I written The Waves?  Maybe not.  Has the pressure of working changed the kinds of books that I’ve written?  Absolutely.  It’s no coincidence that my best novel was written when I had the year of grace afforded me by an Australia Council grant: working full time prevents me from traversing that kind of territory again. 

Because of what they cost me, I love my books like the unruly children they are, even if they’re not top of the class, or the most popular, or the best looking.  I love them for their soul, their character.  They each have their friends, their circle who would miss them if they weren’t there.  Each one is a product of its time: they could only have appeared when they did, and, if I hadn’t seized the moment, their story would have passed unnoticed, unrecorded. 

So having a room to write in is a luxury, not a necessity.  To write, all you need is an ear attuned to the story that is only for you – and to write it.

4 thoughts on “What writers want

  1. simmone

    having just relinquished my office it heartens me to hear this! Sometimes I don't mind being poor because it means I get to be resourceful. And other times I want to buy new shoes.I figure that I would write anyway, wherever I was.

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  2. grumpy

    Besides loving the job – I became a teacher so I could use those glorious holidays to write. Yeah. Right. After 8 years I have finally got my crap together so I don't spend half the hols procrastinating or lesson planning!

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